Drenched in sweat from head to toe, redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Earl Edwards’ voice was hoarse.
Edwards had been constantly barking out commands and communicating with defenders to relieve pressure on the ball during practice. After practice finished, he retreated to the other side of the practice field where he and his fellow goalkeepers got in extra strength and conditioning work.
Like many on the UCLA men’s soccer team, Edwards is stepping into a new role this season after six Bruins were drafted by Major League Soccer teams. He will be the starting goalkeeper when the team opens the season at home against New Mexico on Friday.
“I sat my last two years behind (former goalkeeper) Brian Rowe which taught me to be humble,” Edwards said. “I learned a lot from him, from older guys throughout that time. I think it helped me mature.”
While in high school, Edwards was named the National Soccer Coaches Association of America National Youth Player of the Year in 2008 and was a two-time NSCAA All-American. Being the starter is a role Edwards said he feels very comfortable with.
“I think it’s my time to kind of step in, communicate along with the older guys and learn from them,” Edwards said.
UCLA is ranked No. 2 by the NSCAA preseason poll and will be tested right away against No. 6 New Mexico. The visiting Lobos did not lose a game in the regular season last year, a fact not lost on either UCLA coach Jorge Salcedo or senior midfielder/forward Ryan Hollingshead, another player who will need to step into a more prominent role this season. Both mentioned it when speaking about the opener.
“That’s the point of coming to UCLA,” Hollingshead said with a smile. “It is to play teams like that and have a hard schedule like what we have.”
Hollingshead contributed three goals and seven assists playing a variety of roles last season. Salcedo said Hollingshead will be counted on in the attack even more this year because of the loss of the team’s top two goal scorers from last season, Chandler Hoffman and Kelyn Rowe, to MLS.
“(Hollingshead) does bring something different to the game than some of our other attacking players,” Salcedo said. “He’s got some speed and power to his game, he’s got a tenacity that really has proven to be something that sets him apart, and his willingness and his drive to make positive plays and to be a force offensively, is absolutely something we need.”
Salcedo said that junior midfielder Victor Munoz and senior forward/midfielder Evan Raynr are also players who will need to step into bigger roles this season after combining to start just five games last year. Both contributed as substitutes, with Munoz finishing second on the team with eight assists.
Defensively, the Bruins return three of four starters. Junior defenders Joe Sofia and Patrick Matchett, along with senior defender Matt Wiet, return along the backline. Redshirt senior defender Chris Cummings has impressed as the new starting left back according to Salcedo and Edwards.
“I’m confident that they as a group will have a good understanding from the get-go,” Salcedo said of the defense.
After going winless in their first three games last season, Salcedo is hopeful the Bruins can get off to a better start this year, despite only returning five starters from last year’s team that reached the College Cup.
“I know that this group will get there; I’m just hoping it’s sooner than later,” Salcedo said.